Hear O Israel: Beyond Hatred and Blame, by Marc Erlbaum

"Hear O Israel: Beyond Hatred and Blame"

Once again Israeli civilians are being murdered in the streets.

Once again, we are forced to mourn the loss of innocents who were made to pay with their lives for the crime of being Jewish.

And once again, we find ourselves in an inverted and absurdist reality where  the victim is blamed for the heinous crimes against her.

A young mother and father are stabbed repeatedly as they push two strollers through the streets of Jerusalem.   Another young couple is gunned down in front of their four young children as they drive home  unarmed.   7 additional unprovoked attacks on civilians are committed within 48 hours.

What do we see on the news in the wake of these atrocities?  Misleading headlines, misplaced blame, misguided recrimination.  

A video  of Israeli police shooting the perpetrator of one of the stabbings circulates on various news outlets and goes viral on social media.   In it, the police  chase the terrorist.  He runs with the bloody knife. He is trapped.  He lunges with the knife, and he is shot.  Suddenly, he is a victim.  Nevermind the fact that he had just stabbed a 15 year old boy.   This is not just police brutality, it is Israeli apartheid and imperialism.  Those racist Jews just shot a fine, upstanding young man.  

The attacks on Jewish civilians continue around the country.  The Israeli army apprehends the perpetrators.  Some of the murderers resist and they are killed, achieving the martyr's death they seek.  And the international community responds with outrage - not against the perpetrators, not against the leaders who incite violence against civilians, but rather against the Israelis who have the gall to defend themselves and institute reasonable security measures.

The "fair" and "balanced" players  talk of mutual responsibility and call on both sides to "act with restraint."  With twisted moral equivalency, they condemn the violence on both sides - as if shooting an armed terrorist is the same as lying in wait and stabbing a civilian to death as he pushes his baby in a stroller.  

Is it possible that this is simply a problem of defective memory?  By the time the soldiers arrive, it is forgotten that there is a reason they have come.  Why are those angry, blood-thirsty Israelis with the big guns marching into Palestinian neighborhoods and apprehending young men?  

Accompanying the video that shows the terrorist being shot, news reports display a photo of the handsome young law student  who has been cut down in the prime of life.  Nowhere is it mentioned that  this attractive young fella just moments before planted a knife in the chest of a 15 year old Jewish boy who he had never met!  

It must be that the reporters were not informed of that bit of information, right?  Otherwise, how can we explain that the Israelis are suddenly put on the defensive,  blasted with vitriol and indignation for simply defending themselves and their country? 

How do we explain the fact that "objective observers" are so biased against Israel again and again?   What has she done to deserve such antipathy?  

Perhaps it is the "Occupation."   But how does that explain the anti-semitism that preceded 1967, or the very fact that the territories in question were occupied in '67 subsequent to a war in which Israel was attacked on all sides?   It would be hard to argue that the unprovoked attack was in response to an occupation that had not yet occurred.

Perhaps then, the hatred is in response to the very establishment of the State of Israel.  But if memory serves, there seem to have been a few incidents of anti-semitism  prior to 1948 - not just in the holy land in the frequent massacres in the British Mandate in the 20's and 30's.  There was also that thing they call  the Holocaust.  And there were the Bolsheviks.  And the pogroms.  And the Crusades, etc., etc. 

"In every generation they rise up against  us," and in every generation they have blamed us for the crimes against us.

Why?  WHY?!

The question is not a new one.  In the Midrash Bamidbar Rabba, which is over 1000 years old,  it is taught that during the holiday of Sukkot (which we just celebrated this past week), it was the custom of the Jews when the Temple stood in Jerusalem to offer 70 bulls to pray for the welfare of the 70 non-Jewish nations (today, though animal sacrifice has been discontinued, we continue to pray for the nations of the world throughout the Sukkot holiday prayers).  The Midrash relates: "Said the Jews to God: 'Master of the universe!  We offered 70 bulls for the benefit of the 70 nations.  Naturally we would expect them to appreciate us.  Yet in reality they loathe us!  As the Psalmist states, 'They substitute my love with hate.' As I pray for their welfare, they despise me!"  Why?

The question is heartbreaking.   And God did not answer.  

Yet this does not stop Israel from praying for the nations, from offering humanitarian aid whenever it is needed, from innovating life-saving technology for all people, from trying to expedite the era when the lion will lie down with the lamb and the land will know war no more.

We must be strong - chazak v'ematz - and sometimes we must fight to protect ourselves, regardless of biased international opinion.   But we are not here to fight the world, we are here to transform it.  We are here to make peace.

The Kabbalists teach that there are two types of peace.  One is called 'Iskafiya/Subjugation' the cessation of hostility when one's enemies are subdued.   But that is not true peace. True peace is "Is'hapcha/Transformation," when suppression is no longer necessary because one's enemies  have become one's allies.   We long for this second type of peace, when we can put down our arms and dwell side by side with our neighbors without concern for our survival.  When we can work with our neighbors to improve the lives of all and perfect the creation that we share.

In spite of our long history of persecution and alienation, we believe that this peace is not only possible, it is inevitable, because, as we say in our essential prayer of the Shema,  "Hear Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One."  This is not simply a statement of monotheism, it is a statement of God's ulitmate Oneness, the unity of all of creation.   We are all brothers and sisters from One Father.  We are all elements of the same whole. 

This central mantra of our faith may be threatening to some.  It may in fact account for the antagonism we perennially face.  It is a secret that many would rather we don't share and that they will do anything to silence us from uttering.  For it undermines the divisions that empower them, the hierarchies that enable them to dominate and subjugate their adherents.  It is division and enmity that they foment in order to distract their subjects from the injustice and tyranny that they impose.  

We, for our part,  will not allow  hate to consume us.  We do not teach our children to slaughter those who incite their children to slaughter us.  We do not  use the strength we possess to eradicate those who would gladly eradicate us if they had access to our weaponry.   We do not refuse to coexist.

We mourn our dead.   We rue the blaming and demonization of  victims.  And we await  the answer to our age old Midrashic question as we work toward the answer to our daily prayers for peace and unification.